The Big Catch . . . and Release

73-degree water offshore and sharks aplenty

Jason Behan said it was like that scene in “Jaws” when the residents of Amity go to sea after the killer shark in every manner of craft and with every sort of weapon imaginable. He wasn’t talking about the weekend’s shark tournament. He was describing the scene that has continued to unfold around Montauk Point in recent days with a growing fleet of fishing boats converging on a school of striped bass, the likes of which veteran anglers say they have never seen.

“School bass are averaging 30 pounds. People are dragging 30 and 40-pound fish along the docks. They’re giving them away. My freezer is full,” Behan said, adding that he’d heard a supplier of live eels, the bait du jour, was called to replenish marinas that had gone through 600,000 eels during the week.

“The Sea Turtle was in the middle of it,” he said, referring to the charter dive boat that services spear fishermen. And, the Sea Turtle was not the only dive boat. Eric Flaherty and friends drove their boat from East Hampton to get in on the action. Flaherty said he drove past the action in the rip currents north of the point to a spot on the south side where they speared three bass over 30 pounds and one 40-plus-pounder. The bass were ‘carouseling’ around us,” was how Flaherty described the underwater scene.

As we all know, gluttony is a sin, one often violated among Homo sapiens, and apparently, among Morone saxatilis, striped bass. Corey Senese, a surfing instructor, was giving a lesson at Ditch Plain in Montauk on Saturday when he spied something white about 30 yards outside the lineup. It was a bass, belly up but still alive.

“There was a lively movement. I went out on my 11-foot board to investigate. I had no idea how big it was until I put my hand in its wide-open mouth. It took one last fan stroke of its tail to get away, but I grappled it. It was pretty much on its last legs. When I had it up on my board, I rode a wave to the beach with the fish on the nose. On the beach we could see something was in its throat. Glenn Krug cleaned the fish and found a giant sea robin stuck half-way down.” The gluttonous bass weighed 38 pounds.

A few years ago, a beach walker found a bass on the beach at Ditch Plain, nearly dead, with a blowfish, ballooned to the max, stuck in its throat. Upon hearing Senese’s story, Jason Behan said he remembered finding a bass with a whole blue-claw crab, the points of its shell piercing either side, stuck in the fish’s opened mouth. Picky eaters they are not.

While this was going on inshore, the eight boats participating in the second annual catch-and-release Shark’s Eye tournament from the Montauk Marine Basin were finding 73-degree water offshore and sharks aplenty.

Joe Gaviola, who led a fishing party on his Free Nicky boat, said that the eight boats fishing were joined by chase boats with divers, scientists, cameras, and satellite tags. In all, six sharks were fitted with satellite tags that will use GPS technology to track the sharks on their migrations. Last summer, the Montauk School students chose the handle “Beamer” for the nine-foot blue shark tagged in their name.

Beamer was caught on a commercial longline off the coast of Costa Rica in May. This year, the Montauk School will follow Big Kahuna, one of two tiger sharks caught by Free Nicky anglers on Saturday. Gaviola said scientists were excited about the two tigers, as none had ever been tagged north of the Carolinas. The Free Nicky wrestled and released a big mako, then caught Bonac, a 250-pound blue shark that got a satellite tag and was named by the Amagansett School.

Tournament rules require the use of circle hooks, a type invented by Japanese fishermen. Circle hooks lodge in a fish’s jaw where they do relatively little damage, rather than in the gut where they usually prove fatal. Points are awarded to boats based on the number, species, and size of the sharks they bring alongside.

After two days of fishing, Free Nicky was tied with Capt. Richie Nessel’s Nasty Ness. Dan Christman, who fished aboard the Nasty Ness, said the tie was broken in the end. The Nasty Ness came out on top for the second year because, while Captain Gaviola’s boat had the “quality” sharks, including the two tigers, the Nasty Ness crew caught and released more sharks overall.

The green approach to shark fishing seems to be growing in popularity. Last weekend’s tournament was featured in an NBC Today show segment Monday morning. Apparently not everyone is green, however. Two signs advertising the Shark’s Eye tournament in Montauk were vandalized in the days running up to the event. Go figure.

Striped bass, sharks, and then there were tuna over the weekend, and well within range of Montauk fishermen. Capt. Jason Carey, who runs the Osprey boat out of the Montauk Lake Club, said he visited the Tails, the northerly section of Block Canyon, on Friday, where he found yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna in the 20-to-50-pound range, and “plenty of dolphin,” he said, meaning mahi mahi. He said he used a boat hook to lower a GoPro camera overboard to video the fish, and the fishing.

The boat Shearwater out of Harbor Marina in Three Mile Harbor ferried Kevin Gallagher offshore to do some catch-and-release tuna angling in the Tails. Capt. Andrew Zuccitti led the angler to a 30-inch bluefin that was brought alongside the boat using 12-pound test line for a photo op before being released.

How about adding a few cod and a sturgeon or two to the mix. Word has it that commercial monkfish boats are seeing both species at the spot known as the Cartwright Grounds, about six miles south of Montauk.